Friday night’s 6-4, 12-inning loss to San Jose was one of the great gut-punching moments for the Modesto Nuts, but there was a huge upside. Despite continuing the track of not being able to hit in the clutch, Modesto did collect a season-high 13 hits.
Three of them came off the bat of Taylor Featherston, who was making his home debut as a member of the Nuts.
As the season began, manager Lenn Sakata mentioned several times how he thought the team would start clicking when Featherston and Sam Mende were able to join the Modesto roster. Both were in extended spring training - Featherston with an oblique strain and Mende with a hamstring strain.
“You work in the offseason, you train, and you’re getting your feet wet in spring training, feeling good.” Featherston said. “We had an early game, and on my first swing it pulled up and got me. Felt like I got stabbed in the back and it took about a month to get over it.”
It was the second straight season that Featherston stayed behind in Scottsdale as his teammates left to start the year. In 2012, Featherston missed the first part of the season after breaking his hand.
He went on to hit .299-12-53 in 108 games for Asheville. The Texas Christian University product was a fifth-round draft pick in 2011 and can play third base, second base and shortstop. He was at short on Friday and Saturday, with Trevor Story manning third base on Saturday.
Before joining the Nuts’ roster, Featherston said he was taking notice of what his oast and future teammates were doing offensively in Modesto, but wasn’t overly concerned about the slow start.
“I was with this group last year in Asheville and I know how they can hit,” Featherston said. “Maybe it’s adjusting to the new league and the better pitching talent, but they got off a little slow. That’s baseball and it’s a new year.
“Over the past week we’ve been swinging the bats better and I believe we’re one swing away, one big two-out hit away from breaking out and everybody relaxing.”
Which brings us back to Friday night. Featherston was hit by a pitch in his first Thurman Field plate appearance, but went on to collect three hits and score two runs.
But in the end it was another tough loss, as the Nuts went one-for-10 with runners in scoring position over the final three innings. In both the 10th and 11th innings they had a runner at third base with nobody out, and in the 12th they squandered a leadoff double.
“Games like that is the reason I play this game,” Featherston said. “The competition is so great. San Jose has a great ballclub and they can hit. That’s what makes it fun - you know every game is going to be a good one.”
SMALLING GOES ON THE D.L.
Tim Smalling remained in the game Friday night after being hit in the helmet by a pitch, and played two more innings in the field before being pulled.
But on Saturday he was placed on the disabled list after showing signs of concussion. Sakata said he will be out at least 4-5 days.
Niko Gallego returned to the roster from extended spring training to take Smalling’s place and was in Saturday night’s lineup at second base.
WAITING FOR THE RULING
California League president Charle Blaney was in town Saturday to get to the bottom of the three San Jose ejections. Manager Andy Skeels, reliever Drew Bowlin and starter Chris Marlowe all were ejected from the game.
Blaney was reviewing video from the game and interviewing participants and observers to determine whether Skeels and Bowlin made contact with the umpires during the arguments.
Ejections carry automatic fines. If it’s determined that a player or coach instigates contact with an umpire, a suspension and additional fines can be assessed.
UPDATE: 7:19 p.m. - Neither Skeels nor Bowlin were in uniform for Saturday's game.
UPDATE: 9:07 p.m. - The San Jose Giants have confirmed that Skeels received a one-game suspension and Bowlin a six-game suspension for Friday's umpire-bumping incidents. Fines were not disclosed, per league policy.